After sleeping on it, I realized that my commentors were right to gently and not so gently chastise me for using the Holocaust as a rhetorical device in my last post. Bloodlands had a powerful effect on me, as have many other books on the various horrors of the twentieth century. They left me with a lasting sense that we have to actively fight against anything that could lead to their recurrence, which was the goal of that post. Unfortunately the route I took reduced the complexities of history in a way that comes across as very glib, on a subject that demands a deadly serious approach.
Almost a decade ago, I was sitting next to an old man and his daughter at a breakfast counter in California, and we started chatting. Casually he lifted his sleeve and showed me the number tattooed on his arm, asking if I knew what it was? I immediately understood he'd been in a concentration camp. He told me that as time went by, fewer and fewer people recognized it. We only spoke for a few minutes, but that encounter has haunted me since. It's easy to treat the Holocaust as dry history, a subject to weave clever arguments around, but it's still a living breathing horror for many. I'm sorry, I made a mistake when I treated it the way I did.